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Cheapskate's Guide, Part 3: What you get free in software, and what you need to add
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
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Cheapskate's Guide, Part 3: What you get free in software, and what you need to add 


Technofile for Dec. 5, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Computers are as dumb as doorjambs without software. You'll get all the software you need to do basic operations when you buy a new PC, and you might get fancier software as part of the deal, too.

What will you get free and what are you likely to need to add on your own?

Your PC will come with Windows 95, the standard software that handles all the normal operating functions of a computer. Microsoft, maker of Windows, throws in a lot of software that used to be considered extra. Here are some of the "extras" that come with new PCs:

  • Internet connection software. You do not need to buy add-on software to connect to the Internet.
  • World Wide Web software. Microsoft includes a Web browser called Internet Explorer. If you'd rather use another browser such as one of the Netscape browsers, you can run Internet Explorer and go to a Web site that has a Netscape browser, then download Netscape. (Downloading is transferring something from another computer to your own.)
  • E-mail software, called Windows Messaging.
  • A simple word processor. This is called WordPad. It's fine for letters and things like that, but it does not have a built-in spelling checker. (You can get a free replacement for WordPad that has a spelling checker by going to my Web site, http://www.dreamscape.com/afasoldt/, and clicking the "Files" link.)
  • A telecommunications program for connecting to computer bulletin boards.
  • Networking software, so you can connect two Windows PCs. (You have a buy networking cards for each PC, starting at about $20 each if you shop around.)
  • Disk-and-file checking software, called ScanDisk, and disk-optimizing software, called Defrag.
  • System-monitoring software, in two programs (System Monitor and Resource Monitor).
  • Backup software.
  • Compression software (Drive Space 3), which increases the space on smaller hard drives.
  • A lot of lesser programs, including a calculator, a notepad, some addictive games, a system-file editor, a group of screen savers and a customizable set of backgrounds for your PC's desktop.

What don't you get? Many first-time buyers are surprised that Windows does not have built-in anti-virus software. If your PC does not come with a bonus package of anti-virus software, get a free trial version of the excellent McAfee AV program at http://www.mcafee.com/.

You also don't get heavy-duty word-processing, database and financial software as part of Windows. You'll probably want to get a good word processor if you write a lot. If so, please resist the temptation to settle for Microsoft Works, often included as a bonus. Works includes a poor cousin of Microsoft's outstanding word processor, Microsoft Word.

Microsoft Word is pricey, but you can get it as part of Microsoft's Office 97 for what amounts to a bargain. In addition to Word, Office 97 has Excel (an excellent spreadsheet program), Access (an easy and powerful database program), PowerPoint (one of the best programs for making graphical presentations) and, perhaps most importantly, Outlook 97. Although Outlook has its flaws, it's one of the best information managers around, handling e-mail, normal mail, scheduling, contacts and much more.

If you'd rather choose a non-Microsoft word processor, look into Corel WordPerfect. You'll probably get the best deal if you buy Corel's own office suite, which includes WordPerfect and other good software.

But if a decent word processor is all you want and you don't want to pay for Word, consider the free replacement for WordPad mentioned above. Or browse one of the Web sites that lists downloadable word-processing programs. http://www.windows95.com/ is a good place to start.


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